Nonprofit Business Organization Longview Plans Harvest Festival as Fall Collective and Staff Fundraiser | local work

Nonprofit Business Organization Longview Plans Harvest Festival as Fall Collective and Staff Fundraiser |  local work

Organizers hope the fall festival will attract tourists to Commerce Street and generate enough revenue to hire a permanent employee to continue attracting people downtown.

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Longview, a long-running nonprofit called Downtowners, is hosting the Harvest Festival from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, October 22, in downtown Longview with the goal of showing visitors why they should visit downtown more often.

The festival was inspired by an event of the same name on the mid-2000s TV show “Parks and Recreation,” said Downtown head Lindsey Cobb (whose name sounds a bit like sitcom heroine Leslie Knope).

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The festival is slated to include events such as a free country singer concert, a truck show, a pancake-eating contest, a children’s haunted house and a petting zoo with a pony named Lil Sebastian, as in the show.

The plan is not just to have fun but to earn at least $20,000 through sponsorships to hire a permanent downtown employee to plan additional events to attract people to stores, restaurants, and locations downtown. Cobb said the annual event will continue to fund the employee, as well as potential grants.

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Cobb said she has worked to help attract people and businesses downtown as an employee of the Cowlitz Economic Development Board, an independent 501©4. Each Washington county has a similar organization dedicated to local economic growth and is funded in part by the Washington State Department of Commerce.

For the past four years or so, Cobb has run the Downtowners Council as an employee of the Cowlitz Economic Development Board, and the dedication of the paid employee has come, said Realty ONE Pacific Group owner Brad Whittaker, who works on Commerce Avenue.

Whitaker said he’s seen growth downtown since he bought his nearly 100-year-old office building in 2018, and joined the new Downtowners, a high of $2,500 a year, when it was previously $50.

“The vibrant city center is important,” he said.

He added that Whitaker real estate doesn’t necessarily benefit from festival traffic like a store, but people who are drawn to downtown may eventually buy and turn to nearby properties. He contributes Downtown to the “long game,” and sees how other vibrant cities like Vancouver and Hood River “create energy that makes people want to go,” he said.

Whitaker said a dedicated permanent employee needs to lead the mission to grow downtown, not a volunteer with a limited time.

In the past four years, Cobb said she’s helped add regular events like Small Business Saturday to attract customers downtown. Now, at least twice as many regular members attend the monthly downtown meetings.

Cobb said the total group has grown from eight paid members at $25 a year around 2018 to $50 at $75 a year. The most recent membership levels range from $100 to $2,500 and offer benefits such as being added to the Downtowners website, appearing on local radio ads and receiving a grand opening or reopening event with advertisement.

Cobb said mom-and-pop stores that mostly consist of downtown are not just dedicated to their business but the area, which helps create a sense of place that attracts more businesses and residents.

“There is something so charming about having such an active city center,” he said.

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